News

Council gives the green light to shopping center school plans

LASD officials say they are closer than ever to buying land for a MV school

Mountain View City Council members agreed Tuesday night to allow the Los Altos School District to pursue land for a school within the San Antonio shopping center, with a narrow majority deciding not to impose restrictions on the school's design or demand the school serve local students in the area.

The 4-3 decision marks the latest checkpoint in an ongoing debate between the city's elected officials over whether to extend major financial support for the district's land acquisition plans with or without strings attached. A majority of the council has voted in favor of giving broad flexibility to the school district on what to do with the future campus, and declined to reverse course at the June 26 meeting.

Mayor Lenny Siegel and council members Chris Clark, Ken Rosenberg and John McAlister voted in favor, while council members Pat Showalter, Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak dissented.

In a letter earlier this month, Superintendent Jeff Baier told city staff that the district was seeking to acquire about 9.6 acres of land in the northeastern corner of the San Antonio shopping center, owned by the company Federal Realty. The district's vision calls for replacing Kohl's and other businesses on the property with a school and adjacent park space.

The June 8 letter was short on specific details, but stated the district planned to use eminent domain to acquire the land for "the future development of a new school and public park," rather than through a typical real estate transaction. The surprise decision drops earlier plans to build a school at another location across the street, and required the council's blessing to proceed.

When a public agency like a school district decides to pursue condemnation, property owners can either fight it in court or work toward a negotiated settlement, and district officials anticipate that Federal Realty is willing to do the latter. More details on the transaction, including the anticipated cost for the land, are expected to be available later this year.

In order to make the land purchase pencil out, district officials are brokering a deal with the city of Mountain View whereby they would "sell" the unused density allowed on the acquired property -- a process known as the transfer of development rights (TDRs) -- to developers throughout the city. This would generate $79.3 million in extra money to defray the cost of expensive land. Council members also agreed to earmark up to $23 million in park funds to finance the land purchase, which would create joint-use open space for city residents adjacent to school facilities.

Given the "very generous" contributions by the city, Councilwoman Abe-Koga said the city ought to start laying out some conditions and requirements for the help. She said she wanted to make it a requirement for the campus to have a track and field and a gym accessible by the community, and wanted a hard deadline on whether the campus would be home to a neighborhood school or Bullis Charter School, which has yet to be determined.

"I just don't understand what the hesitancy is in putting those types of requirements," Abe-Koga said.

Councilwoman Matichak said the shopping center may be a suitable site for a school, but she wasn't prepared to sign off on the school district's new plans until she had more clarity on the use of the site as a neighborhood school or a charter school. Councilwoman Showalter also opposed the decision, saying the city's support should be contingent on the campus being a neighborhood school serving the nearby residents.

"I'm not going to vote for it unless it's a neighborhood school," she said.

But the majority of the council stuck with prior decisions, opting against conditioning the city's financial support on the future campus design. Councilman Rosenberg said a long list of requirements including amenities like a sports pavilion and a track and field could kill the school district's plans to build a Mountain View campus, and that imposing conditions would mean the council doesn't "really" want a school in the San Antonio area. He called it "ridiculous" to start demanding a sports pavilion, a gym, a swimming pool and even a sand volleyball court, joking that the council may as well demand an archery range too.

"I don't understand why we have to put all these parameters around it right now unless the idea is to kill the school," he said.

Mayor Siegel encouraged his colleagues not to start putting deadlines on the school district, and said now is not the time to start calling for campus design requirements. Demanding a gym that could cost upwards of $20 million might make the project infeasible and kill the deal, he said.

"Imposing conditions of that level means you don't really want a school," he said.

Also a concern is where the businesses on the 9.6 acres of shopping center property will go if they are displaced by the school district. Business owner Alex Cheung, who owns Sushi 88 and Pearl Cafe on the property, said he wasn't notified of the school district's plans and was distressed to hear that his businesses may be forced to move through an article in a newspaper, rather than through the district or Federal Realty.

"To find out about this proposal through a public newspaper I felt is unfair to us and our family," Cheung said.

Jan Sweetnam, chief operating officer of Federal Realty's West Coast branch, assured council members that the company would award businesses with fair compensation for moving expenses, value of the lease and any other awards that come with condemnation. He said the company would work toward "fair resolutions" and try to accommodate everyone it can.

City Manager Dan Rich said that the city's agreement finalizing the use of TDRs and park funds will make clear that the city has an interest in maximizing amenities similar to those at a junior high school, along with a clear plan for transportation and traffic mitigation and a relocation plan for the businesses that would be displaced. He clarified, however, that there's a big difference between stating what's important for the city versus laying out absolute requirements.

"It's one thing to say we want to strongly encourage transportation solutions or busing. It's another thing to say we're not going to support this unless there's a gym," Rich said.

A lengthy search

The school district has been on the hunt for land ever since voters passed the $150 million Measure N bond in 2014, convening a committee to search for real estate and negotiating for a potential sale in several areas in and around the San Antonio region of Mountain View, which is the epicenter of the district's future enrollment growth. Despite bobbing in and out of real estate negotiations with property owners in the past, Baier told the Voice that this is the closest the district has been to actually closing out a deal.

Past considerations include four different sites around the shopping center, as well as the Old Mill and former Safeway site on the corner of California Street and San Antonio Road. The only one that gained serious traction was a plan to buy property at 5150 El Camino Real in Los Altos, which school board members later decided not to pursue.

Baier said the city deserves credit for paving the way for the land acquisition, which he and school board members have called the last and best shot of creating a school in a fast-redeveloping area of Mountain View.

"Through incredibly complex collaboration, we really got to a point where this has absolute possibilities here," Baier said. "This could really work."

Federal Reality purchased 33 acres making up the eastern half of the shopping center in 2015, buying the property for $62.2 million, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal. The Business Journal suggests that the low price might have to do with a long-term lease with Walmart on the southern end of the shopping center, which would not be included in the district's negotiated purchase.

If the acquisition goes through, Baier said there could be big benefits for city residents in the region. While the district would be purchasing 9.6 acres of land, an additional two acres adjacent to the property could also be available for city park space. Baier said a nearby developer, Greystar, has expressed interest in buying the two acres in order to meet its park land requirements for a nearby residential housing project. The purchase would be a normal real estate transaction between Greystar and Federal Realty, rather than part of the condemnation, and Baier said the district's acquisition plans are not contingent on the separate real estate deal.

The earliest the district could buy the land, construct a campus and open doors for students would be fall 2021, district officials said.

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Comments

23 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 28, 2018 at 12:36 pm

A school next to a 24-hour gym, a likker store, and a Walmart. Nope, no creepers around there!


15 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jun 28, 2018 at 2:18 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

At least the traffic and noise significantly lower there than at the Old Mill site, but that's not saying very much. Kids still will be at risk walking and especially biking to that site. Surely they can do better than this!!! And to use eminent domain to steal the property??? That's downright outrageous.


9 people like this
Posted by Come-On Crossings
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 28, 2018 at 2:41 pm

This is a GREAT PLACE for a school, sports pavilion and park (but I did like the former site as it was closer to CSMA and to the neighborhood). Let's hope it built ASAP. 24 hour gym moves to Greystar and Walmart is a ways away in response to MV Resident.


6 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 28, 2018 at 2:45 pm

By the time the item returns in October, the LASD may have announced its tentative plan for the site. Its plan surely is to dump Bullis Charter there. But an announcement alone would not be binding unless the City made it binding as part of the deal with the District. Maybe one of the men on the City Council will yet insist upon a neighborhood school as part of the binding agreement. The agreement could always be amended by a later vote of the City Council. But no binding agreement for a neighborhood school would leave the matter entirely to the LASD and its Board of Trustees (all currently living in Los Altos).


3 people like this
Posted by CA Native
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 28, 2018 at 2:55 pm

CA Native is a registered user.

@MV Resident, that 24 Hour Gym, along with Kohl’s, JoAnne’s Fabric will all be demolished under this plan and replaced with the school! As for Walmart, just think of the new business they will get: drop the kids off and then go shopping in the morning! SMH


8 people like this
Posted by FrmDatCaliStFam
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Jun 28, 2018 at 3:44 pm

NO!!! This is not a good place for an elementary school. If anything the old Safeway should be considered! I don't think we need more housing if that's what the city intends on doing with the old Safeway site. Keep the shopping center the way it is! Besides just think of the traffic going on with the new building site. This will NOT work!


26 people like this
Posted by diablo
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 28, 2018 at 4:07 pm

I don't always agree with these three, but it seems the women have better sense about the requirement for a neighborhood school than the men on the council. Why on earth would be subsidize Los Altos with our valuable development rights without a requirement that it be for the benefit of our kids and our school system!

Having part time use of a park in exchange for these development rights is a joke. Come 'on guys, get your head into the game and work for Mtn View, not Los Altos.


2 people like this
Posted by Stephen Friberg
a resident of The Crossings
on Jun 28, 2018 at 4:50 pm

I've been talking to my neighbors in the Crossings and many of them have long wanted to have a school and park-facilities in our part of Mountain View. However, many are fans of the Bullis Charter School, and also many are worried that a Mountain View-only neighborhood school wouldn't include, or have the support of, the whole of the Los Altos School District (LASD).

Council members Pat Showalter, Margaret Abe-Koga, and Lisa Matichik are, of course, entitled to their own opinions. But I wish that those opinions were the same as those of the people who live in our part of Mountain View!

There is concern in the neighborhood, though, about having a school in a shopping center. Maybe they could work with us and the LASD to address and alleviate those concerns.


14 people like this
Posted by Neighborhood Voice
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2018 at 8:24 pm

People should keep in mind that The Crossings is less than 10% of the neighborhood there. Their concerns should be weighted at 10%.

The entire council has said that they prefer a neighborhood school there, and for good reason. The whole argument LASD had that they needed help depended on some new students coming from new housing. LASD used a scare tactic and said it could be 800 new students. More likely it's 200-400 new students.

However you slice it, if there are 700 students in the area now, then the concern should also cover the 400 NEW students, as opposed to just the people who live there today.

The council seemed mindful of this. They continually talked about how they reserve the right to say no in the future. This isn't a final decision. If LASD goes ahead with this disregard for the current and future residents of the ENTIRE area there, then the council ought to kill this aid. It's a lot of free money for the school district, and they talk about not even using it for the kids in the area. LASD ignores the preference of the city council at its own peril.

As for this sports pavilion costing $20 Million, that seems ridiculous. It would be 9000 square feet of building, and shouldn't cost more than $9 Million. Besides, LASD claims that if they build a neighborhood school with 49,000 ft of building, it costs only $15 Million less than building a K-8 school with 81,000 ft of building. So LASD is saying that the incremental cost is $15 Million for 30,000 ft. So you could argue that this extra 9000 ft sports pavilion should cost only $5 Million.

Plus, the land is the big thing. Couldn't the city also kick in an extra $5 Million to build the sports pavilion somewhere in the park? Sure, it's nickel and diming, but the important thing to the city is having the land for the park. LASD claims they'll keep 6 acres free for park space. Is it really rocket science to work out how there could be a sports pavillion somewhere in there, UNLESS THAT PROMISE IS NOT TRUE!


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 28, 2018 at 9:52 pm

You guys do realize that they're going to condemn some perfectly functional businesses, to take away their land by eminent domain, right? This is disgusting, and abuse of eminent domain.


Like this comment
Posted by Bored M
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 28, 2018 at 11:02 pm

Why do we need another sports pavilion? What is wrong with the sports pavilion next to Graham? Instead of blowing money on a new one, just renovate the one we have which still serves its purpose very well.


8 people like this
Posted by Voicer
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2018 at 11:11 pm

Well, one reason for another city gym is that the population is slated to go from 80,000 to 120,000. A lot of the added residents will be in the LASD portion of the city, though not the same proportion as the school impact. Naturally, the San Antonio area being served by Egan Junior High is far from Graham and Crittenden. There are already two city gyms at each Junior High and another at Rengstorff Park. The general idea is MORE. The location makes sense from a distribution perspective.

Not to mention the cost of this gym as part of this project is very low relatively speaking.


3 people like this
Posted by Dhruva M. Herle
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2018 at 1:24 am

I would not think this area would be ideal. Well, a lot of the kids are from the Old Mill and there’s the noise from the Caltrain and Mayfield Road as this is what people and Google use to go to the Google office and to get to Palo Alto. The area is also run down as well as economically deprived and Mountain View is just not dense enough for a new school unlike Los Altos. I think we need a transit center connecting Vta and Caltrain. Currently, the San Antonio station is a run down bland station which surprisingly is important enough for limited stop trains! The Vta transit center caves out on the north side of Showers and is not an ideal way to build a bus lot. I also this they should extend the VTA light rail down here as there is a high potential in this area for both business and entertainment. There’s no directions telling you how to get to Caltrain station and you have to walk on well worn streets which have not been repaired or repaved for like 15 years. There also is no bike lane for most of the trip making it hard for bikers and walkers have to pass private property which isn’t ideal. The underpass under Caltrain is also in horrible shape with graffiti, homeless people, and druggers. This underpass is not only used for Caltrain but also to get pedestrians from Showers to Mayfield and Google. Also, how are they gunna electricity Caltrain and build chsr with a drab station like that? They should build a second track for express trains and build a new overpass for pedestrians. I think we should construct a transit center, not a school. Yes, it would be nessecary but they could also instead of spending more money and building a school could improve road infrastructure and provide buses. This way, students could take a bus on improved roadways which can reduce traffic and the roads can be prioritized for buses. Either the district could purchase school buses to make this journey or work with the VTA to establish new bus routes and stops. I live in the Old Mill and go to LASD so I understand what this means and what we’ll go through.


7 people like this
Posted by Shower n Drive
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Every comment I read above seems to be some minor fraction incredibly concerned about their little bubble world. No one is going to have to send their kids tomorrow by bike to school there. Just as the entire city was industrial and orchards years ago- so will it evolve to something else. Your precious concern maybe valid today or next year but not forever. So just build a damn school, build some more damn housing and try getting along with everyone else.


9 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 30, 2018 at 5:35 am

Gary is a registered user.

The last poster is right that TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN and the future of Mountain View cannot be effectively micro-managed. City Councilmember John McAlister may have been trying to make that point at the June 26 City Council meeting when he suggested that the LASD be required to build a school site (bought with city resources) including a sand volleyball court. On the other hand, the details are important and the most important issue for Mountain View is whether the new school site will be for Mountain View children or Bullis Charter School (i.e., mostly children from other cities). While the Los Also residents on the LASD board of trustees are free to focus on the interests of their constituents, so should members of the Mountain View City Council. The constiuents are not the same. Maybe the men on the City Council are too stubborn to ask for directions or change their positions - even a little. But if the City signs off on allowing the Los Altos school board's deciding whether to dump Bullis Charter at the site (without later persuading the MV City Council that would be best), then residents should expect the site will be used for the charter school.


6 people like this
Posted by let Councilmen "man up"
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 30, 2018 at 4:15 pm

I thought it was rather a smile that @Gary of Sylvan Park brought up that now a third councilwoman has stood up for the RESIDENTS OF ALL MOUNTAIN VIEW. This was exactly the reason explained well for Margaret A-K's vote against this project from the start. There is the Community Benefit that she can explain to 'all her constituents' throughout Mountain View?

It is good to see that there are now Three! John McAllister - I have a sign from your last campaign, where I supporter you. It says "Residents First". John, I consider you a rather honest guy - so what is up? Why can't you see that a MIDDLE SCHOOL, with local MV students attending and community facilities benefit is putting "RESIDENTS FIRST" for your Mountain Vie constituents?

[ Little thought about fact - Tax dollars collected from MV/LASD residents are used to support only Springer within the City of MV. But their taxes are also used to support schools and LA residential-parkland field use facilities at All the Other LASD neighborhood schools! ]


3 people like this
Posted by Numbers
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2018 at 2:53 pm

The issue with the charter school isn't just an issue with a charter school. This particular charter school has great popularity and huge demand from all the residents of LASD. They do in fact have the same 28% enrollment from Mountain View as does the entire LASD district. OK, so it's not really a charter school issue.

The issue is that this charter school will be 1200 students by the time the school opens in 5 years. They have continually filled demand and added 300 students over the past 5 years and they are continuing to grow at a smaller rate, so they will reach 1200 in 2023.

Meanwhile, the rest of the district is forecast to shrink in size by at least 300 kids. There is some variability, but with current demographic trends and births over the last 8 years being down 20% state-wide, LASD will likely shrink somewhat. So in 2023, LASD will have 3900 kids and the charter school 1200.

SO we have a situation where this 9 acre site will be slated to house 25% of the kids in the LASD attendance area. LASD has another 115 acres of land, so it will be about 7% of the land (1/15). But it will be 25% TWENTY FIVE PERCENT of the kids.

So, you can argue how good the site is. But can you really have any doubt that chugging along with plans to put 25% of the kids in the San Antonio area on this little new school site? Isn't that the real issue behind all this sham?


6 people like this
Posted by Traffic
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Continuing the last thought, much has been made of the traffic. LASD has split the 900 student school between two sites for the past 6 years (both LASD Jr Highs).
They made a big deal about how you CANNOT put 900 kids all at Covington Elementary.
It's just TOO MUCH. So they split them on two sites.

So this new site, LASD is aiming at putting all 1200 kids on the one spot, because the traffic will be Mountain View's problem. Why maybe some of the kids will be local? But realistically, you can only hope for 15% of the total 1200 to come from
the San Antonio area. So 1000 kids will be driven in from Los Altos Hill, South Los ALtos and over by Springer Elementary School in Mountain View, as well as nearer areas in Los Altos. It will be a total crap show of cars. The city council talks about using buses, but LASD will never pay for that. LASD has no buses anywhere. It's just not going to happen. Of course, it wouldn't be easy either, setting up bus routes for 1000 kids because they all come from the other side of El Camino Real. But it won't happen.

It just makes much more sense to cap that site at 600 kids like LASD does for ALL of its sites everywhere (except Jr High). Why should this area be any different? They have no need to DOUBLE-LOAD this one site, the one site they have with so few kids living local to it. They claim 80-90% of the kids live local to all the other elementary schools, but in this case it is the reverse.

So, it's a bad spot for 600 kids given where they come from, but it's 10 times worse for 1209 kids. The city council should beware. This isn't a matter solely for the LASD board. This affects traffic patterns in the overall area. LASD also makes LOUSY drop off location and with the city council doing wishful thinking about buses they aren't putting any driveway constraints on the site either.


4 people like this
Posted by MTV Resident
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2018 at 4:38 pm

This looks like an 80M donation from MTV to Los Altos (~1k/MTV resident), with the return payment of higher building density in MTV. How is this not a lose/lose deal for MTV? We get access to a new gym or track? How many of us will actually use it? I'd guess much less than 1% of the MTV population. Please rethink this decision.


3 people like this
Posted by Living
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2018 at 9:02 pm

So Mtn View gives away revenue (taxes) from retailers. No school belongs in a shopping center. This idea is just plain crazy. Quit it before it goes any further.


5 people like this
Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on Jul 2, 2018 at 4:06 pm

The comments about how Mountain View is somehow "subsidizing" Los Altos by having this site in Mountain View is laughable.

The reason that there are tons of new students in this area is because Mountain View has chosen to knock down "perfectly viable businesses" (like the Firestone tire shop on San Antonio) and put up multi-story housing units. Los Altos isn't adding hundreds of housing units a year, but they are expected to educate the children from all that housing without a dime of help or a single school site? That's insane.

If Mountain View wasn't creating this problem, there would be no need for a solution. Instead, they allow their "city planner" to do things like approve more building while the council sells our water rights to East Palo Alto for a pittance and resists putting a school on Mountain View land to educate the students that will be housed in those new buildings. So what, exactly, is the "plan"? It seems the only plan is to shoehorn in as many high-rise housing units as possible while placing the burden of services for those residents on other communities as much as possible.

The only greed here is that of the council, who see dollar signs at the addition of every new unit of housing. Cha-ching! Have we added any money for more police or fire services for all those buildings? How about new fire equipment to fight fires in these high-rise complexes?

The Mountain View city council should ashamed of themselves.


4 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 3, 2018 at 10:07 am

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

Disagree with you @prs from The Crossings (The Crossings BTW is in the City of Mountain View and in the Los Altos School District)

If the larger community of Los Altos took on their responsibility for building affordable housing (bit BMR and middle income) then the residential housing needs generated by the large tech companies would be better spread among all South Bay/Penninsula communities. Do 'the tech managers' that live up in Los Altos really care about this need? It does not seem that they do! The actions of their City Council always seem to represent NAMBY wealth-area politics. @prs,do you think the Los Altos Council would ever approve a large development like The Crossings? IMO "fat chance".

Los Altos will continue to be our neighbors, with "gated communities" and "county club estates", and CEOs like Adobe's John Warnock (decamping I hear from his $10M+ estate).

If the high tech industry wasn't "creating those problems" - this place would wither and die, Detroit-like. If the MV City Council wasn't bravely facing the reality of change, we would really be in such a fix. If the Los Altos community (and Palo Alto) stepped up to their residential-housing responsibilities, we would have less pressure in MV.

IMO


1 person likes this
Posted by @psr
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2018 at 10:54 pm

Do Not Buy the myth. LASD currently has 700 kids in the San Antonio area, of which 500 or so attend elementary school. This is separate from these bantered about new developments unless you count back when The Crossings was built (as a new development). Not bloody likely as a cause.

Mountain View's developments in the San Antonio area are most likely to generate another 300 new LASD students, of which 220 would be elementary school students. Meanwhile, as Steve Nelson points out, the school population in Los Altos has declined and will continue to decline.

There's no rush of new ALSD students period, let alone caused by NEW and IMPENDING development in Mountain View. That's a load of hooey that makes a good sound bite for the LASD entrenched administration.


4 people like this
Posted by Town Square Historian
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2018 at 8:50 am

@PSR,

I recall old posts from PSR where they admitted they don't actually live in the Crossings. PSR is actually in Monroe Park, but selected Crossings because it is the closest neighborhood in the drop-down list. Monroe Park is not the Crossings. It is assigned to Santa Rita Elementary (easily walkable), while the Crossings and Old Mill are assigned to Covington Elementary (~4-mile drive).

LASD needs to make this a neighborhood school and rethink their attendance boundaries.


1 person likes this
Posted by Summary
a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2018 at 2:34 pm

LASD's plan for the future:

(a) 1200 kids from BCS on the Kohl's site across the street from The Crossings

(b) 3850 kids spread across 9 other sites of 10 to 20 acres each all around Los
Altos plus Springer in Mountain View and Gardner Bullis in Los Altos Hills.


MAKES zero sense from a fairness perspective. Designed to discouraged choosing the charter school but seems likely to not make any effect on that.

How long will the Mountain View city council put up with this strategy, given that they will have five years to reflect on it as it moves forward?


1 person likes this
Posted by Summary 2
a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2018 at 2:42 pm

And then there is the reasoning LASD has revealed in the past. You see, they reason that they may see enrollment growth. They will start out with 3850 kids split between 9 sites, but they need to save room so they don't become
too crowed. That's an average of 425 per site to start. However, some sites will have 300-350,
and the Junior High sites may go to middle school grades and number 600 kids at those 2 sites. So they will
be starting out with the average elementary school site having 380 kids. They need to save room though.

The 1200 kids at the new site bought by Mountain View will serve to ensure that the Los Altos sites stay around 400 for elementary school. The IF they see growth, they could maybe more up from 400. Got to save room...

Sounds logical, right?


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